Throughout last October, Autumn Soderlund would scour the bars and breweries of Dunedin, looking for the magical women.
The chill of Florida winter had yet to set in, but the air was abuzz each Friday and Saturday with its own kind of crisp electricity — as if the seaside town could sense they were coming.
Unsuspecting bar-goers heard cackles as they approached. Suddenly, a horde of witches drove in on golf carts, pointy hats adorning the tops of each illuminated vehicle.
Smoke rolled. Music played, seemingly from nowhere. The synchronized dance began, brooms and all.
This year, Soderlund, 47, was thrilled to become one of the Witches of Dunedin, an elusive — and deeply beloved — group of women, mainly in their 50s, 60s and 70s, whose flash mobs shake up the town throughout the calendar’s spookiest month.
Appearing unannounced at businesses every weekend, the Witches use their powers for good — the dances raise money for local charities.
“I am honored,” Soderlund said. “I am absolutely in love with everybody here. I love what we’re doing for the community.”
Several years ago, Alison Clarke, 57, opened a link to a viral video of a group of women in Germany dressed like witches preforming a flash mob to the beat of a reggae pop song — its name roughly translates to “Shake your Bacon” in English.
She knew instantly she wanted to create her own group of witches, with a Gulf Coast twist.
“It took me a long time to convince enough women to dress up as witches on the weekend and dance around Dunedin like crazy people with me,” Clarke said.
Eventually, she and a group of five others decided to invite all their female friends on Facebook to join in — after receiving a swell of interest, they decided to cap the group at 30 people.
The Witches of Dunedin preformed their inaugural dance three years ago.
“At first, it was just about having fun and bringing that quirkiness to our quirky town of Dunedin,” Clarke said. “But when we started dancing, people were, like, offering us money — so we thought, maybe we can pick a charity and donate it.”
This year’s earnings will go to the George J. Koustsourais Youth Scholarship Fund, a program through the Dunedin Department of Parks and Recreation that helps send kids to summer camp. In one recent weekend alone, they raised $1,700.
“We’re expecting to exceed what we raised the past two years,” said Marsha Goins, 58, who dons a warty prosthetic nose each night. “Not all witches are pretty,” she noted.
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Arriving on golf carts, the witches attract massive fanfare around town.
“I don’t know what’s going on, but it’s great!” a man holding a frosty IPA yells to his date over the music, as the women begin their dance at Rosie’s Tavern one recent Friday.
They keep a tight lip on their schedule — where they’ll show up each weekend remains a mystery.
“I still haven’t seen them!” a staff member at Back in the Day Books exclaimed after hearing he missed one of their surprise performances that night.
But it’s hard work being a witch.
“People see the fun, but it’s a commitment,” Clarke said.
Ahead of autumn’s most ghoulish month, the women practice each Thursday in September. Come October, they perform every Friday and Saturday, sometimes thrice in an evening.
“It’s pretty tiring in the month of October,” said Dennis Panars, 69, who works the sound system and whose wife is one of the witches. “But my wife supported me as a musician for many years, so I thought the least I could do was support her when she wanted to do this.”
Larry Viens, 69, another witch’s husband, controls the smoke machine at each performance. “I’m a roadie too,” he said.
The payoff is worth it. After a performance, the witches pose for photos with townspeople young and old, and enjoy a drink or two together.
“You know, this could have just fizzled out,” Clarke said. “It could have just been really nothing, and we would just be dressing up at witches on Halloween.
“But our town of Dunedin opened their arms and just grabbed a hold of it.”